Sunday, November 20, 2011


When I was seven I burst out of the school gates one sunny afternoon to find a strange woman with tight red curls and big glasses beckoning to me. I glanced over my shoulder to see if she was looking at someone else but all of the other children were already moving towards their parents.  My older sister Claire came up along side me and gave my school bag a little shove with her elbow as she walked past.  I started to ask, "Claire.. who is...." but she had run ahead to talk to her friend Sasha, the girl who lived in the cool house by the beach with portholes in the walls.

The woman was still staring at me and I began to feel a little afraid. I was old enough to know that you didn't talk to strangers and you most definitely did not go home with someone you didn't know after school. I looked around for my mum and our beat up silver Nissan Sunny but I couldn't see either of them anywhere. The woman began to wave at me, and then she did something odd. She rolled her eyes.

As she walked closer I stopped with a start. This woman looked like my mum. She had the same big glasses and navy blue handbag. Hang on, she WAS my mum! But what on earth had happened to her hair?? Her lovely soft blond locks were coloured an angry red and her curls were as tight as a telephone cord. I felt tears sting my eyes and my bottom lip start to quiver. Someone had ruined my mother.

As it turns out, my poor old mum had been experimenting with a new look. With the perspective of being a mum in my 30s now myself I can imagine her being bored with her clothes and her hair and wanting to do something different. She had little money so she would have bought a cheap bottle of red hair dye and some curling tongs thinking she could perform a mini makeover in the bathroom, and all within school hours.

The seven year old me didn't appreciate any of that. I wanted my old mum back, and fast. Who was this woman with the hair the colour of tomato sauce? She was a version of my mother, but she was all wrong somehow and I desperately needed the familiar mum back again.

Mum didn't keep the red hair for long. I think even she realised that it wasn't her best look. Having three daughters gripe and criticise and complain probably didn't help either.

And so it was that karma came recently to my house to bite me on the behind. I'd been growing increasingly sick of my long dark hair and one day I decided to cut it short. I talked to the kids about it the night before and Jemima cried real tears. Please don't cut your hair mummy! People at school will think my mum is a boy! she said with all the logic of a seven year old. Ben shook his head sadly. I don't want you to cut your hair mum.

I cut it anyway while they were at school. It's my hair I thought, I'll do what I like with it. They'll soon get used to it the hairdresser said as she sawed through my ponytail.  I walked out of the salon feeling like I was a new version of myself. A better, more fashionable version. I got home and immediately posted some photos on Facebook to see what people thought. Reports were favourable. When my husband got home from work he approved.

So with quiet confidence I walked into school that afternoon with my new hair do.  Ben took one look at me and his face fell. Tears welled in his big chocolate eyes and he said, I want you to be normal.

Jemima did little better. She didn't spot me at first and when she did, she went bright red. I could tell she was trying hard to hide her emotions in front of her friends but she say Why did you do that? while giggling nervously and pointing at me.

Ben spent the whole drive home with his hat over his face. He refused to look at the strange woman in the front seat who sounded just like mum but who wasn't quite right.

Poor kid. I knew just how he felt.

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